Monthly Archives: May 2017

Knockerry Country House : Perfect in Every Way

Planning tours requires a lot of research and exploring  hotels is a major contributor to my time. After arriving in Scotland at Glasgow airport I wanted a ‘WOW’ factor. Something distinctly Scottish – large, luxurious, sitting on a loch with a beautiful view. I hit the jackpot …. ‘Knockderry House’ ticked all the boxes and from the time we arrived late in the afternoon to our departure the following morning the staff provided the perfect stay and the only problem was, we didn’t get to stay for longer.

Knockderry House is privately owned and restored to an inch of its life with beautiful decor and of course all those unseen renovations like – double glazed lead light windows, brilliant heating system, stunning bathrooms and lighting to provide a lovely atmosphere.

The house was built-in 1840 and the present owners Murdo and Beth have been upgrading the house since 2001. Murdo said he bought the house when it was a ‘Spit and Sawdust Bar’ a term I have never heard of but I think I can imagine what it would have been like.

Our night was highlighted by our evening meal in the dining room. In hotels like this you book Dinner, Bed and Breakfast but, I didn’t expect to get a fine dining experience using the most beautiful local produce, transformed into t exquisite, detailed exceptional dishes. It was hard to choose from the menu and we had a very very special first night in Scotland.

An additional treat on our brief overnight stay was finding Linn Garden on my afternoon walk along the side of the loch.. Alison and I walked the 1 km track around what had obviously been a very wonderful garden, now struggling with almost neglect but,it was obvious it had a vast assortment of floras including a section of New Zealand plants. Later back at the hotel the staff provided a book on the garden, its owner Dr Jim Taggart and his late son Jamie – who went missing on a plant finding expedition in Vietnam 8 years ago.  It’s a tragic sad story and now Jim in his 80’s is struggling with the garden.

It has made me think a lot about – What is garden and what makes a wonderful garden and how do you preserve its future?


I returned with my tour group the following morning and as one of my ladies said, she almost prefers this garden to the neat and tidy borders we see. It has such strong bones and the established trees and shrubs, mainly rhododendrons are under planted with massive drifts that will always look good. It was truly inspiring and touched out hearts.

For anyone traveling to Scotland – Knockderry House, an hours drive from Glasgow is a must. I can recommend it without hesitation and you will be rewarded with a wonderful memorable stay.


From Normandy to a touch of Britany

For many people without a history background it’s often hard to put events and dates in context and chronological order. The D Day landings and the subsequent 100 day battle of Normandy is no exception. High on the cliffs above gold beach and the village of Aromanches (where the British landed in 1944) is a very good observation site overlooking the remains of the temporary harbour of Mulberry which enabled men, supplies and materials to be safely landed daily.

Our first morning visit was view a movie in a circular cinema – actually is was 8 screens showing clips from the beginning of second world war and for many it helped put events in context, showed the devastation of the cities and towns of Normandy and the shocking life of the civilians.

The famous Mont Saint Michel and the most visited French tourist site is our next visit. I was concerned and hate being overwhelmed by masses of people and although the streets and restaurants were heaving it seemed many people didn’t want to walk up the steps to the Monastery even though it was downhill after that through the vast halls and huge chapels. It was a beautiful day and the view from the top of the coastline and the famous beaches where the tides are notoriously dangerous.

For two nights we sneaked into Brittany – staying in a really lovely hotel on the beach beside the old city of St Malo. A beautiful regional dinner of duck terrine with apple chutney and slow roasted pollock in the hotel restaurant overlooking the North Sea – which was a calm as you could get it I expect was a perfect end to a busy day.

The vast beautiful beach in front of the hotel has lines of huge oak timber which have been in place since the 1700’s and obviously replaced but are their answer to help combat the huge waves that hit the coast in a storm, which here in St Malo are lined with houses. Maybe this is an answer for St Clair !! where I  live.



Everyone that has read ‘ All the Light we cannot See” by Anthony Doer, will have a fascination with St Malo. The old city by the harbour was 80% destroyed in the war but unlike most towns was rebuilt in the same style. Surrounded by a 2km wall we had a very informative introduction during a 2 hour morning walk with our guide Amie.

Followed by an afternoon with her in the stunningly beautiful Dinan 30 minutes away. It was Monday and very quiet. Most shops close on Monday mornings here and for some all day. Dinan also has a beautiful wall that you can walk on and provides classic views of the medieval houses, streets and shops, still in everyday use .

To complete our 6 nights in Normandy / Brittany we drove back towards Rouen and spent an afternoon the famous garden of Claude Monet – “Giverny.” Late in the afternoon is always a good time to visit popular tourist sites and this was no exception. Rows of Blue Iris’s is exactly as I remember it on our visit way back in 1995 with our 3 small children and very different to Autumn garden we saw last year on my research trip. It is a classic beauty and the spring colour was everywhere which was planned and loved by Monet himself and was the focus for so many of his paintings.

It’s been a wonderful visit to Northern France. The weather has done an about-face and is now hot and sunny. But, the pipes are calling and after a one night stay we fly to into Glasgow to begin our Scottish experience.

3 Nights In Bayeux

After arriving in Charles de Gaulle airport on time and after the usual horrible inevitable wait, hoping your suitcase isn’t going to the one that doesn’t arrive. I met my tour group members who had spent  time in Paris for a few days. They had all found each other and our exit from the airport was hassle free.

On a very wet rainy afternoon we started our 6day tour of Normandy – sadly the view was rather dismal, but the lush looking countryside in all shades of green was still pretty.

The charming little town of Bayeux is the stop for the first 3 nights. It has a strong historical past which is evident in the architecture of their impressive cathedral. Luckily it was spared from the bombing in the second world war which destroyed so many cities in this region and was in fact the first French city liberated after the D Day landings.

Hotel Reine Mathilde’s newly renovated annex was a welcomed sight to shower, unpack and relax before our first dinner together starting appropriately with French Onion Soup.

Bayeux came to life during our walking tour with local guide Claire. She skilfully led us through the town, while cleverly covering its historical influences and the lifestyle of today’s inhabitants.Ending at the famous 950-year-old Bayeux Tapestry, embroidered on linen to tell the story of William the Conquers Battle of Hastings.

30 minutes away is the coastline and the famous beaches of the D Day landings in 1944. In driving rain, we walked through the American cemetery at Omaha and spent a dry hour or so in the Museum which, through movie clips and many display’s helps put this massive historical event in context.

Our first day finished with a visit to the immaculate garden of Chateau de Brecy’ – A  restored 15th century formal garden. It is impressive and someone certainly has to have a love affair with the hedge clippers.

My New Zealand French friends Jacque and Anny became our guides in the attractive old port town of Honfleur. With its legendary past based on the port and its impressive architecture it’s no wonder everyone wants to visit here. It was market day and the local produce was  on display along with large caldrons cooking specialties like –  tripe sausages with onions and apple and  blood sausages !!!Once again the rain spoilt our walk and diving into a restaurant for lunch to help dry out was the best decision.

The sun came out for our second garden visit to Jardin de Castillon. I found this little gem on my research trip last September and I could spend lots of time here gaining ideas for my own garden in Dunedin.

Eating in the evenings at local restaurants is always a must and time doing research definitely pays off. La Rapier and L’Ange Saint Laurent deserve recommendations in Bayeux, both served delicious seasonal food of the Normandy region. But,no visit here would be complete without tasting their famous cider made from apples or pears and the aperitif Calvados. Apple trees are in blossom all over the countryside and everyone seems to have a few trees in their backyards.Blue flag Iris’s are flowering everywhere, they are certainly a popular  late spring flower in this region and have always been a favourite of mine.